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Project Korte/Pirker

After Windrush: Popular Re-Constructions of a Black History for a Multiethnic Britain


Since the late 1990s Britain has defined itself officially as a multiethnic society. The discussion of notions of Britishness and national identity has become a prominent theme in public, political and cultural discourses. Achieving a sustainable re-construction of British national identity requires immediate and future-oriented action, but a changed awareness of the nation’s past, i.e. a shift in the collective and cultural memory, is also decisive in the construction of a multiethnic Britain. Significantly, the new notions of British history are not aimed at particular, minority-ethnic, groups but at British society in general. Recently the role of blacks and Asians in the nation’s past has been put on the agenda of an increasing number of researchers. Today it is no longer the preserve of academics and scholars. Rather, it has become accessible for a large audience via television and film, museal exhibitions, literature and internet resources. The history of postwar migration from the Caribbean is of special significance in this process. An important motor has been the television series Windrush, first aired in summer 1998 at prime time on BBC 2. This documentary makes a point to show West Indian migrants in many areas of everyday life and culture during the 1950s and 1960s. While the Windrush series has not been the sole factor in the popularisation of black British history, it has broken much ground for this development. The approach to show black Britons as part of the British life worlds in media products aimed at large audiences has since become increasingly frequent. A new thematic cluster that manifests itself in a wave of popular historical products has evolved around 2007 with the nation-wide commemoration of the British abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

The aim of our project is the analysis of a representative selection of media products in detailed case studies. Our focus is the interplay of (1) content, (2) discursive context and (3) the strategies of (re)presentation used in order to open up the ‘black’ experience of the British past for a general, ethnically diverse, yet still predominantly white, audience.

Project Director: Barbara Korte (English Studies)
Assistants: Eva Ulrike Pirker (English Studies); Student Assistants: Jonas Takors and Doris Lechner

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